Cuba Makes Me Hurt

Against the Current, No. 105, July/August 2003

Eduardo Galeano

THE JAIL SENTENCES and executions in Cuba are very good news for the global superpower, which has been going crazy trying to cough up that bone stuck in its throat. But they are very bad news, sad and painful news, for those of us who think that the courage shown by this tiny country, so capable of greatness, is admirable, but who also think that justice and freedom march hand in hand or not at all.

The news are bleak: as if the premeditated butchery in Iraq was not enough, now the Cuban government commits these acts which, as Don Carlos Quijano would say, [are a] “sin against hope.”

Rosa Luxemburg, who gave her life to the socialist revolution, disagreed with Lenin about the project for a new society. She wrote prophetic words about the things she did not want. Although she was murdered in Germany eighty-five years ago, her words continue to be true:

“When freedom is allowed only to those who support the government, only to those who are party members, then it is not freedom no matter how many they may be. Freedom is always freedom for the person who thinks differently.”

She also wrote: “Without general elections, without an unrestricted freedom of the press and of association, without a battle among freely expressed opinions, the life of public institutions vegetates and dies out and bureaucracy becomes the only live element.”

The 20th century, along with the first few years of the 21st, have witnessed a double betrayal of socialism: the surrender of social democracy, which has reached its lower depths with Sergeant Tony Blair, and the disaster of the communist states turned into police states. Many of those states have fallen apart willy-nilly, and their recycled bureaucrats now serve their new masters with pathetic enthusiasm.

The Cuban Revolution was born to be different. Having been under incessant imperialist harassment, it survived any way it could, not the way it wanted. Its courageous and generous people sacrificed a lot in order to remain standing while the rest of the world was on its knees.

But along the harsh road on which it walked for so many years, the revolution began to lose the wind of spontaneity and freshness that used to push it forward. I say this in pain. Cuba makes me hurt.

I don’t have a guilty conscience that prevents me from repeating what I have already said inside and outside the island: I don’t believe and I never believed in a one party democracy (including in the United States where there is one party disguised as two), neither do I believe that the supremacy of the state is the answer to the supremacy of the market.

I think that the long prison sentences are a goal scored against our team. They have turned the groups that openly ran their operations from the home of James Cason, the representative of Bush’s interests in Havana, into martyrs of freedom of expression.

Cason’s passion for freedom was so extreme that he personally founded the youth branch of the Liberal Cuban Party (Partido Liberal Cubano) with the refinement and discreetness characteristic of his boss.

By acting as if those groups represented a serious threat, the Cuban authorities have paid them homage and have endowed them with the prestige that words acquire when they are forbidden. This “democratic opposition” has nothing to do with the genuine expectations of honest Cubans.

If the revolution would not have done it the favor of repressing it and if there was total freedom of the press and of expression in Cuba, this supposed dissidence would have already disqualified itself. It would have received its just deserts – isolation — for its notorious nostalgia for colonial times in a country that opted for the path of national dignity.

The United States, the indefatigable factory of dictatorships around the world, does not have any moral authority to give democracy lessons to anybody. President Bush could certainly give lessons on the death penalty since as governor of Texas he proclaimed himself champion of state murder by signing 152 executions.

But what about true revolutions, those that come from below and from the inside like the Cuban revolution: Do they have to acquire the bad habits of the enemy they are fighting? There is no justification for the death penalty no matter where it is applied.

Will Cuba be the next prey in the hunt for countries launched by President Bush? His brother Jeb, governor of the State of Florida, announced this when he said: “It is time to look around the neighborhood,” while exile Zoe Valdes clamored in the Spanish television, “bomb the dictator.” Defense Minister or better said, Attack Minister Donald Rumsfeld, clarified the issue: “Not now.”

It seems that the dangerometer and the guiltometer, those little gadgets that choose the victims for the universal target shoot are aiming at Syria instead. Who knows. As Rumsfeld said: meanwhile.

I believe in the sacred right of all people to self-determination, anywhere and at all times. I can say this with no qualms whatsoever because I said the same thing, in public, every time that right was violated in the name of socialism with the applause of a vast section of the left as happened, for example, when the Soviet tanks entered Prague in 1968, or when the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan at the end of 1979.

One can already see signs of the decadence of the Cuban model of centralized power, where obedience to the orders that come from the top has been turned into revolutionary virtue.

The blockade, along with a thousand other aggressions, has hindered the development of a Cuban-style democracy, fed the militarization of power and provided alibis to a stilted bureaucracy.

The facts show that it has become more difficult than ever to open a citadel that has been closing up on itself the more it has been forced to defend itself. But the facts also show the imperative need for a democratic opening, now more than ever.

The revolution, which has survived the fury of ten American presidents and twenty CIA directors, needs the energy generated by participation and diversity to confront the harsh times that lie ahead.

It is the Cubans and only the Cubans themselves who, without any outside meddling, should open new democratic spaces and conquer the remaining freedoms they lack inside the revolution they made and from the entrails of their country, the most solidary country I have known.

ATC 105, July-August 2003